Nearly half of the board members who approve the architectural designs and aesthetics of Gilbert businesses and housing developments don’t live in the town they’re helping plan.
In fact, the chairman of Gilbert’s Design Review Board, Darrell Truitt, was appointed last week to fill a vacant seat on the Mesa City Council.
Truitt, a Mesa resident, is undecided as to whether he will continue what has been a 22-year stint as chairman of the Gilbert board, despite having never lived in the town.
“I think the city is unique, and the town is unique, and they have different challenges,” said Truitt, a civil engineer. “I think Gilbert has developed well. I like what I see when I drive around Gilbert, in terms of the appearance of their buildings and their landscape.”
He and two other members, Bob Deardorf of Phoenix and David Gibson of Mesa, have long served on the Design Review Board. The other four members live in Gilbert.
“I definitely think it’s more about the expertise,” said Deardorf, who has served on the board for 17 years. “In my view, it would be an unfortunate position to be in, to say somebody can’t care about a municipality just because they don’t live there.”
The three were grandfathered into their unpaid volunteer positions when the town amended its code to require that board members be town residents.
The board is tasked with approving the designs and aesthetics of structures, and decisions they’ve made have helped create the look of the town, including requirements for business exteriors, landscaping, and the designs of homefronts in housing plans.
Unless appealed, its decisions are the last step of the process after property is zoned and development agreements are approved by the Town Council. At times, the board has handled more hotly debated issues, including the height allowance for the Sunrise Senior Living facility now under construction near Gilbert and Warner roads, after residents opposed three stories.
Councilman Don Skousen said in light of Truitt’s appointment in Mesa, it could be time for the council to reconsider reappointing board members who don’t live in Gilbert.
When the board first started, Gilbert was a town of less than 10,000 residents, and didn’t have as many experts in the field to pull from, he said. Now the town has about 200,000 residents and the most highly educated people in the East Valley.
“Those guys have been really devoted, and have done a very good job,” said Skousen of current members including Truitt, whom he called “very valuable.” But he added: “We might want to look when their terms expire. I think we have residents now that can fill any of the boards, if they’ll take time to serve on them.”
There are nonresidents on other boards, some based on requirements that agencies that must be represented, such as the Economic Development Advisory Board, where utility companies or area school districts have representatives. And the Arts Advisory Board and Human Relations Commission have no residency requirement, and include leaders of arts or police groups or advocates that have an interest in the subject matter.